Rolling out agile scrum at an enterprise level in the corporate arena can be challenging for even the most adept managers. The role the manager plays is essential to the success of the agile program.  Other roles, such as the Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team are clearly explained by scrum in its core practices.  But less clear, is what happens to the manager when an organization migrates to agile. How thorough a knowledge of agile does a manager need to have to be successful?  How much training and exposure to agile practices do managers need to be effective? How experienced must a manager be in leading to run an efficient scrum program? Below are 5 key tips a manager should utilize for success:

Communication, Trust and Respect

Communication, trust and respect are extremely important in promoting a culture of innovation and collaboration. In an agile environment, Product Owners working closely with the scrum team set the priorities for work items.  The team needs to feel comfortable sharing new ideas and different solutions to deliver the prioritized items in the backlog – some of which will succeed and some that will fail. In many ways, those ideas that fail are as important as the ones that succeed. Often, our failures can lead to our ultimate success, because important lessons are learned through failure. It’s up to the manager to create an environment in which employees feel free to produce ideas without judgment and criticism. Failed ideas that lead to powerful lessons and later successes should be rewarded. The manager must make the scrum team feel comfortable challenging the status quo, and the way things have operated in the past.

Self-Organization is Key

Good scrum teams share common characteristics. They are self-organizing, adaptable, have strong expertise, share their skills and knowledge for a high overall level of intelligence, and they solve problems themselves. They don’t run to the manager every time there is an issue or problem, instead they collaborate and resolve issues on their own. They devise their approach and adapt to changing conditions as they arise. When left to their own approach, the scrum team is able to deliver the best solution because the team is not confined to a set plan. Team members volunteer for work in a sprint, as opposed to having their activities assigned.  In addition, scrum teams learn from past experiences, self-police, and reinforce agile practices and rules. A manager should inspire and coach the team, enabling the team to live these behaviors and develop great products. And in the end, the manager should trust the team to make good decisions. That way the manager can focus on creating value, rather than managing the day-to-day operations of the team.

Talk to the Customer

Talk to the customer in order to understand their needs, and involve the scrum teamchat in those conversations. Regular communication between the scrum team and the customer allows the manager and the team to prioritize the work and ensures that the program stays on target. It also prevents the manager from making commitments on behalf of the team that can’t be met.  Scrum provides for a high touch process with the customer, but the manager must let the team take advantage of this framework and interact with the customer on a repeated basis.

Highlight Progress

Don’t wait for the finish line to recognize progress. A good manager will highlight small successes along the way. Acknowledging progress both to the team and to other teams that can learn from examples of success, is motivating and morale-building. Sharing information with other teams can highlight what techniques work in a specific environment. By acknowledging progress during the duration of the project, a manager can show the team that he or she is not focused only on the big picture, but actually cares about the methods they use to get there.

Clear the Path for Success

successA good manager in an agile workplace should spend a large portion of his or her time removing roadblocks and problems that could potentially slow the team down. By minimizing external distractions, handling difficult personalities, and dealing with unexpected side projects, a manager can keep the team on path to successfully complete the project.  Managing side projects within the agile process can help to prevent conflicts between the two modes of working. Ensuring that the team is properly staffed to meet current business conditions is another way to clear the path for success.

Managers in an agile environment must be good leaders. They must be servant leaders, serving the people they lead and empowering them to self-organize.  They must challenge people to reach higher and innovate. Communication and listening are key traits, and good managers must know when to control the situation and when to step back and be more flexible. By following these tips, a manager will not only be a good manager, but a good manager in an agile environment.

Shane Gerson

About Shane Gerson